Unraveling Secrets of the Agrarian Past
Alumnus Studies the Origins of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-Century Barns and Buildings
By Art Petrosemolo
Greg Huber, BS’71 (Metro), grew up in Hackensack, N.J., a long way from rural America. But his childhood home just happened to border an 1890s carriage barn, which he delighted in exploring.
Today, the founder of Eastern Barn Consultants, Macungie, Pa., is a sought-after authority on historic barns and houses. He researches the origins of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century buildings.
A lover of all things natural, Huber spent 25 years as a contractor, all the time moving closer to his first love of historical structures.
“My father was a woodworker, and he helped me gain an appreciation of both softwood and hardwood as natural building materials,” Huber says. “I also had a neighbor who introduced me to American history through Civil War books and another who gave me an appreciation of antiques.” He continues, “Maybe I was just destined to find my way into this field.”
Huber familiarized himself with vernacular architecture — buildings constructed by a particular culture using various designs and local materials. He says, “I began to really appreciate that these buildings, many from the 18th century, were constructed simply and practically without the help of any architects’ plans.”
Huber first seriously examined a historic barn — circa-1860 — back in 1974, in the mid-Hudson River Valley in New York.
He is most attracted to older, rural barns. “I really feel the aura, the energy, when I enter a barn. It’s almost a spiritual experience for me.” He continued to study, research and explore historical buildings and did a few property consultations while keeping his day job.
Then in 2002, at age 54, he exhibited as a historical consultant at the Kutztown (Pa.) Folk Festival, and it led to eight consulting projects. “If there was ever a time to roll the dice and be a full-time barn historian and consultant, this was it!” says Huber.
Huber continues to consult, researching these unique buildings — from design to markings to construction — and also conducting property deed searches.
He can determine how old a barn is from its construction and wood. Construction varies from area to area. “Bergen County has nothing like what we have out here in the Kutztown area,” he says. The Holland Dutch settled Bergen County, while the middle of Pennsylvania was settled by German Dutch. The architecture in Bergen County has low roofs and walls, with a medieval feel and wide expanses; while in Pennsylvania, there are high, straight walls, frequently made of stone, with steeply pitched roofs.
“The meaning of exterior hex signs is largely decorative. These signs basically relate to the sun and celestial happenings. However, when you see rosettes on barn interiors, then the meaning has shifted to having a ‘warding away of evil’ effect.” — Greg Huber, BS’71 (Metro), Historical Consultant
Huber has a particular interest in how barns were built to meet the specific needs and lifestyles of our ancestors. “Many of these timber-frame construction building formats,” he explains, “can be adapted as well to modern houses and other structures.”
He estimates that he has visited more than 5,000 barns in 15 states, and says that west-central New Jersey has the widest diversity of barns anywhere in North America.
Huber undertakes 10–25 research projects per year. Each includes careful documentation of the features of the barn or house and, in the case of a vernacular barn, an explanation of how the construction ties back to a particular culture. He also delivers a comprehensive written report on the property — sometimes including how to best preserve or repair a structure.
His book, “The Historic Barns of South-eastern Pennsylvania: Architecture and Preservation, Built 1750–1900,” was published in 2017 by Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, Pa.
Ed. note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2020 edition of FDU Magazine.